Splits among the protesters fail to halt start of five-day fuel 'crusade'

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The Independent Online

A five-day "rolling protest" by hauliers and farmers, predicted to cause widespread traffic disruption, was due to start today despite a damaging split between fuel protesters and claims of dwindling public support for their campaign.

A five-day "rolling protest" by hauliers and farmers, predicted to cause widespread traffic disruption, was due to start today despite a damaging split between fuel protesters and claims of dwindling public support for their campaign.

The People's Fuel Lobby vowed last night to press on with its "crusade" from Tyneside to London to demand tax cuts from the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, above the £2.5bn of concessions announced in his pre-Budget statement.

John Coxon, the lobby's deputy organiser in the Northeast, predicted that the convoy - which is due to leave from a truck-stop beside the A1 in Gateshead at 9am - would consist of up to 150 vehicles and potentially grow to several thousand by the time it reaches Hyde Park on Tuesday to mark the end of the 60-day deadline set by the group after September's fuel blockades.

He said: "We are confident of a good turn-out and ever increasing support until we get to London. Mr Brown has not given people enough and we are now going to his backyard in London to ask him why."

But a second protest group, the Hauliers And Farmers Alliance, which joined in "go-slow" convoys and oil refinery blockades two months ago, attacked the lobby for acting too soon. One of its leaders, Lenny Johnson, said: "They should have left more time to look at the effects of Gordon Brown's Budget concessions. Fools rush in. The People's Fuel Lobby are putting people's backs up rather than promoting the cause and they are doing more harm than good. I really feel they should have left it alone."

Organisers of the convoy have abandoned plans to start from Jarrow on Tyneside because of criticism that it tainted the name of the Jarrow hunger march to London 64 years ago. A "go-slow" yesterday along 45 miles of the A1 from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Newcastle attracted a maximum of just six vehicles. The PFL said numbers were kept deliberately low.

Police issued warnings to participants in the convoy that they could face up to three months jail if they deliberately obstructed traffic or deviated from agreed routes. The convoy is expected to arrive in Leeds tonight, before criss-crossing the motorway network, at an average speed of 30mph, taking in Birmingham, Manchester and Milton Keynes.

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